As the number of monkeypox cases in the U.S. surpasses every other country in the world, health experts are detailing how the virus spreads.
On Thursday (August 5), the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency as the nation reached over 7,000 confirmed cases of the disease.
The virus is primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, explained to People how monkeypox and coronavirus differ in transmission.
“This is not a respiratory virus. It is not like COVID, which spreads primarily through the air,” Yancey said.
“Monkeypox is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. And that can be any kind of skin-to-skin contact. I know a lot of the cases here have been transmitted through sex, but it’s not a sexually transmitted disease,” she continued.
“Basically, sex involves a lot of skin-to-skin contact but so does dancing, so does kissing, so does shaking hands, or doing things like wrestling or football,” the infectious disease expert added. “So there’s a bunch of different ways that can be transmitted. Any skin-to-skin contact is a big risk.”
Though it has not been a “main driver of this particular outbreak,” monkeypox can also be spread by large respiratory droplets.
“So if you are face to face with someone for a prolonged period of time, you potentially could spread it that way,” Yancey said.
According to Yancey, the virus can survive for days in an environment, so it is “absolutely a possibility” for monkeypox to be transmitted through money, doorknobs, shopping carts, and other similar “high touch items.”
“Now, we do not have to shelter in place. Once again, this is not COVID,” Yancey noted.
Hand sanitizers and cleaners are highly effective at stopping the spread, Yancey said.
Some health experts also recommend returning to social distancing practices and limiting close contact with others to reduce the risk of infection.
“This is something to be concerned about and aware of, but it is not time to panic,” Yancey added. “This is a mild, self-limited disease. We have not had any deaths outside of Africa. Also, there is a safe, effective vaccine for this that is being rolled out by the federal government. And hopefully, we can get all our at-risk citizens vaccinated.”